World of Chivalry

One of the stranger sub-cultures within Christianity is the world of “chivalric orders”. Groups such as the Roman Catholic “Knights of Columbus” are well-known, but there are also a number of other “orders” out there which appeal both to Catholics and to other Christians. Members are tranformed from mere “Mr” or “Ms” to “Chevalier” or “Dame”, and they may go on to be awarded other titles.

Those who join any of these orders pledge themselves to emulating the Christian ideals of medieval knights. Happily, this doesn’t mean belligerence against Muslims or a desire to conquer the Middle East, but rather the cultivation of inner qualities and the resolution to apply them for the social good. The Prior of the Sphinx Priory of the “Order of Most Honourable Christian Knights of the Rose” explains that:

In C.S. Lewis’s essay The Necessity of Chivalry, Lewis wrote “that the disparate strands of manhood–fierceness and gentleness–can find healthy synthesis in the person of the knight and in the code of chivalry.  Here these competing impulses–normally found in different individuals–find their union.”

Knights of the medieval era were asked to “Protect the weak, defenseless, helpless, and fight for the general welfare of all.”  These few guidelines were the main duties of a medieval knight, but they were very hard to accomplish.  Rarely were even the best of  knights able to fully meet these tenets. The lifestyle pledged, the oath taken, was a higher calling.  As time passed, the ideals live on and victory is found in the struggle itself.

…The Knights Codex puts forth those virtues which strengthen nations, build communities and develops individuals. The Codex was a document that described the desirable characteristics that the Knight strove for in his daily pursuit of chivalry.  Today, we still actively pursue the virtues of:  Loyalty,  Respect,  Courage,  Justice,  Largesse (being generous),  Prowess (being skilled),  Integrity,  Nobility,  Faith,  Humility, and Franchise (complimenting others).

Some orders are happy to explain that they were founded only recently; others see themselves the revival of more ancient organisations. In some cases, the validity of an order’s claims is hotly debated on discussion forums.

Joining such a group can bring one into contact with some unusual people. For instance, the “Order of St Stanislas” is run by an elderly Polish gentleman who lives in Colchester, UK, named Juliusz Nowina-Sokolnicki. You may not have have heard of him, but apparently he is the rightful president of Poland, under which authority he dispenses various honours. The order has attracted anti-communists; the most famous member has perhaps been Gen William Westmoreland, who commanded US forces in Vietnam in the 1960s. There is also a Count Michael Subritzky-Kusza, former member of the Rhodesian Light Infantry who is now “New Zealand Ambassador to the Imperial House of Hohenstaufen”. Some groups, while quite respectable, have to contend with unfortunate pasts: the British branch of the “Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem”, for example, was set up with help from Robert Gayre, a notorious supporter of apartheid and promoter of “scientific” racism. Despite this unhappy historical connection, its activities are quite benevolent and it enjoys the support of some distinguished persons.

In some respects, the orders have similarities with certain forms of Freemasonry – although “standard” Freemasonry promotes a general Deism, there are various sub-branches specifically for Christians. A 2001 article in Freemasonry Today explains:

The degrees beyond the Craft are many and varied. Whilst there are ways of classifying and grouping them together, there are those referred to as Christian Orders, in that they restrict their membership to those avowing the Christian faith. These include the Knights Templar, the Red Cross of Constantine, Knight Templar Priests and the Royal Order of Scotland. Perhaps the most well known is the Ancient and Accepted Rite of 33 Degrees working under the Supreme Council 33º, based at 10 Duke Street St James, London. It is the 18º, ‘Knight of the Pelican and Eagle and Sovereign Prince Rose Croix’, or simply Rose Croix, which is the most spoken of and while masons outside the Order may know little else of it, they appreciate that it is highly prized.

I must, however, caution masons from rushing into the 18º or claiming to be a Trinitarian Christian if they do not fully understand that doctrine. Being an occasional churchgoer will simply not give that comprehension. The Rose Croix is not a badge to be collected, nor indeed are any such Orders; Rose Croix Chapters choose their candidates with great care. The ceremony demands real thought and Christian understanding before undertaking it; thus for good reason, membership of the A & A Rite should ideally be by invitation. However, rank in the Craft or other degrees should also have no bearing; a mason’s self-awareness and Christian faith is not measured by the size or ornamentation of his apron.

One group allied to “Mark” Masonry is the “Grand College of Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests”;  members apparently see themselves as bishops, and wear copes and mitres. The “Healing, Teaching and Chivalric Order of St. Raphael” was established by a certain Keith Ansell, who had long-standing links to Masonry, and the order’s “Ceremonies of Investiture” are held in a Masonic building. Other orders, however, are keen to maintain some distance; the website of the “Christian Knights of the Rose” disavows any links to Masonry. The “Knightly Order of St. George” enjoys as is its “spiritual protector” Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who is personally hostile to Freemasonry.

Some orders are particularly proud of having received recognition from bishops of various kinds; as well as Nazir-Ali’s links to the “Order of St. George”, the “Christian Knights of the Rose” has a charter from Bishop Peter Compton-Caputo, founder of the Anglican Independent Communion (Compton-Caputo was of the view that the Anglican Church went to the bad in 1928). A Colorado-based group called “The Religious and Military Order of Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem” notes with pride a connection with Pope Shenouda, head of the Coptic Church.

To an outsider, the rituals and titles look somewhat eccentric – in some cases, even risible. It seems to me that there is also a danger that members of such groups may be cultivating self-importance rather than self-reflection (I expressed a similar reservation about Freemasonry here). However, it all looks like good clean fun and if they are undertaking charitable activities one can’t complain too much. Either way, there is a fascinating strangeness to the whole “scene”.

6 Responses

  1. The family Bretz is of Noble Blood. The Christian man and Gentleman is Mark Bretz. He is from Bretzius.

  2. […] blogged on the Count back in January, when I wrote an entry on various “Chivalric Orders”. He had been a member of the UK-based Polish Government […]

  3. Bretz’s friend is of Noble Blood and his name is Joseph Timothy Clifford. His name came from De Clifford. Bretz and Clifford are the Frick and Frack of Fort Lauderdale workers.

  4. […] He is also Grand Master of a couple of chivalric orders: the Order of the Eagle of Georgia and the Seamless Tunic of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of the Order of the Holy Queen Tamar (I wrote a blog entry on the curious “chivalric” sub-culture here). […]

  5. […] previously blogged on the strange world of chivalric orders here. There are also various other organisations called the “Order of Saint George”, which […]

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